In one of the most impactful scenes of Article 15, Anubhav Sinha wants to expose the caste hierarchy deeply rooted within the system even amongst the protectors of law of our country. Most of them are not corrupt police officers per say, but they are just conditioned in a way since birth – so unconsciously aware not just of their castes, but even of the subdivisions within the highest and lowest stratas of that hierarchy. This is the team who have switched themselves off to a part of India that co-exists with them, but they turn a blind eye to ‘their‘ life and death problems, even without realising that their own life will become a dumpster without ‘their‘ help. This non-chalance and convulated thinking is baffling for their privileged and idealistic officer, and his extreme frustration shows up as he is at a loss of where to start cleaning the mess from. This is the India that has become.
In yet another extremely moving scene of the film, the same officer wants to confront the rot head on, and he decides to directly convey its shocking impact to the most innocent entity of his ecosystem, a young girl who is the household help. There, he is like a father figure who wants to protect the young, uncorrupted future of tomorrow from the hopelessness of the situation, but wants it to be aware of its darkest truths as well. He dreams of a resilient India through her bright and young hopeful eyes. This is the India that can be.
Again elsewhere, the protagonist meets the other face of India. On one hand, he has a colleague who could have made peace with remaining a sweeper all his life, but he dared to challenge that with his education to be a part of the police force. On the other hand, he also meets one of the brightest minds who is forced to become a rebel leader victimized by his low birth, and threatens the system in his own struggle for survival . His kind and kin are possibly far more affected by the despicable rapes and murders around them, for which the administration has turned a blind eye to, but the political stooges that they have become have robbed them off their drive to actually bring about the change. This is the India that could have been.
All these Indias coexist and live beside one another amidst a system that has rotten in its core. And it is not just one section of the society that the rot is contained within. The corruption, the prejudice of caste, class or gender divide, and the hunger for power has hollowed the soul of the politician, the administrator, the investigator and the medical practitioner alike. To them, the heinous crime committed on a bunch of underage lowborn girls is just another file that needs to be closed to protect their own interests, and secure their next progression in life. Hence they have no qualms of framing the abused as abuser, silencing anyone who is a threat, and cheating everyone around them without blinking twice.
It is this rotting system that Anubhav Sinha wants to make a bold and courageous statement against. Through his protagonist young IPS officer Ayan Ranjan, he wants to challenge its status quo, staying well within the system and going by the tenets of Article 15 of the constitution that prohibits all discrimination on the basis of any societal divide – religion, caste, creed, gender or place of birth. He aims to start the cleansing process taking everyone along, even if that means that everyone has to get into the swamp to clean the filth. And at times, he himself needs to fall back on a call of conscience that is distant and yet near him (represented by his partner Aditi), the emotional detachment to whom is intentional, and yet it is the much needed voice that dreams of an India without any needs of heroes to bring about a change, where every single individual is an effective change maker in his or her own sphere of influence.
These are heavyweight but extremely relevant themes that Article 15 wants to tackle, and yet it is Anubhav Sinha‘s panache for drama that he tries to stitch it all together within the fabric of a thrilling police procedural, with a realistic but an extremely mainstream treatment. Subtlety is not his forte, so he still uses the storytelling tropes like slow-mo to highlight the heroics of his hero who afterall still needs to be the single handed initiator of change; fumbles with continuity issues like showing the dapper hero spic and span even after he has travelled through a deluge of filth to reach his objective; and he gives him some crowd pleasing dialogues to again establish the larger than life hero. But thankfully, he doesn’t paint that hero with the broad strokes of an Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgan like officer, and wonderfully channelizes his restrained simmering intensity to etch a character who is as self reflecting and internally faced as Sinha wants us to be.
And he brings in his team with well rounded technical brilliance to make the necessary hard hitting impact – a retro colour palette (to give a sense of a milieu that is still stuck in the past), terrific camera work (especially the night shots, of jeep lights piercing through the dark to cut through the chaos and find answers), and chilling background score (that adds to the eerie brilliance inspite of being a little too loud in a couple of instances). Sinha also does very well to induce dry subtle humour to the proceedings at regular intervals, to make his story much more accessible to the generic movie going audience. His widespread acknowledgement of social media platforms as being the inseparable agents of change is also a smart storytelling technique in gaining the audience connect and making them a part of his narrative.
But above all this, the film primarily works so well because of its stupendous performances. 2019 is an year where we are witnessing brilliant ensemble performances one after the other. After Gully Boy and Sonchiriya, we now have yet another film where almost everyone in the cast shines again. After Mulk, Manoj Pahwa as Brahmadutt delivers another memorable performance here in a contrastingly different role that one wouldn’t possibly even associate with him. Sayani Gupta as Gaura and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Nishad finally get roles that does justice to their talent, and they sparkle through and through (Ayyub should stop working as the sidekick of the Khans immediately for sure). I definitely wanted to see more of them. Ashish Verma as Mayank and Ronjini Chakraborty as Dr. Malti are excellent for their short but impactful roles, whereas Nasser as the CBI officer and Isha Talwar as Aditi significantly pale in comparison even with their longer screen time. But the real show stealer for me in the stellar support cast is Kumud Mishra as Jatav with the terrific performance of the man who says a lot when he doesn’t say much. Equally brilliant along with him is the young girl Sumbul Touqeer playing the little girl Amali – she gets only a couple of scenes, but is so heartening in her presence that you want to go and hug her just then and there.
It is not easy for a lead to make his mark when he is surrounded by such a brilliant cast. But you do that with ease when you are Ayushmann Khurrana. Gifted with the terrific sense of script choices, and with a skill to interpret his characters with an uncanny sense of deep compassion, Khurrana makes Ayan deeply sensitive and sincere in his approach. His assertion doesn’t need aggression, he communicates so much with his simmering eyes and brooding silence, and he doesn’t need to lose himself even when the system around him is abrasive and crumbling apart. This has to be one of his most matured performances to date and will be long remembered for a new kind of cop he gifts to the world of hindi cinema. And Sinha brings a beautiful closure to his arc in a brilliantly written climax scene – non-flashy but deep. Just the way it could have been left, without forcibly inserting the post credit song (good stand alone, but unnecessary for the film’s tonality).
Thank you Anubhav Sinha for this reincarnation. The India today needs a Mulk and an Article 15. I sincerely hope that your audience also proves that it is the cinema we deserve as well, and ensures that it stays in cinemas long enough for every Indian to hopefully watch it. Thankfully it ran to a packed screen in the show I watched it, and I hope that all those viewers spread the much needed word of mouth in its favour. For more and more people need to have this experience, they need to introspect, be the initiator of the change within, and search for all those answers that Bob Dylan wanted us to, long long back. It is time for the world to move forward from that dark, messy and entangled past!
Yes, ‘n’ how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind